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Violence: Unending Woes of Indian Women

Geetika Dang is a free-lance Economist; Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, USA; & Raghav Gaiha is (Hon.) Professorial Research Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, England. All authors share equal responsibility.

Huge numbers of women and even school children have braved police batons, water cannons and teargas shells in a wave of public fury against India's rape epidemic. Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

NEW DELHI, Nov 23 2017 (IPS) - The statistics are chilling. As many as 2.24 million crimes against women were reported over the past decade: 26 crimes against women are reported every hour, or one complaint every two minutes. As chilling as these statistics are, they don’t reflect the gory details.

Consider, for example, a few cases reported in the last four weeks.

An 18-month-old girl was brutally raped by her neighbour in broad daylight in outer Delhi’s Aman Vihar, by 33 year old Rakesh, who works in a printing press raped the toddler in front of his own children, a four year old boy and a two year old girl. The child later underwent an emergency surgery for 1.5 hours for the injuries she sustained after the assault (Hindustan Times, 2 November, 2017).

A 19-year-old woman was allegedly abducted and raped by four men near railway tracks in Bhopal on 31 October night when she was returning home after attending a coaching class, police said on 2 November. The men tried to snatch her jewellery but when she resisted, the accused allegedly took the woman under a culvert near the railway tracks and took turns to rape her before fleeing. Three police stations threw out the woman’s complaint, despite the fact that both her parents are in police service. A Government Railway Police (GRP) officer even taunted her for “coming with a filmy story”. It was only when the woman and her parents caught the culprits after a scuffle on 1 November that the police registered a complaint. (FirstPost, 3 November, 2017).

Complaining to police about her gang-rape was the beginning of a new nightmare for Kajal. Officers detained the young woman from Madhya Pradesh state in central India. They beat her with a stick, she says, until she agreed to drop the charges. She was abandoned by her husband and threatened by the accused men (The Guardian, 8 November, 2017).

Geetika Dang

Nothing seems to have changed after the gruesome gang rape and brutal murder of a 23 year old woman in a moving bus (known as the Nirbhaya or fearless Case) five years ago that catalyzed a national movement against sexual assault of women.

Victims of sexual assault are still just as scared to report to the police for fear of further sexual harassment or rape, and ostracisation by the family and community. Besides, convictions against rapes reported remain abysmally low.

On May 27, 2014, the (alleged) rape and subsequent lynching of two cousins (aged 14 and 12) in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh led to the arrest of five individuals, who were released after an investigation by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation determined that there was no evidence of rape or murder. The case was dismissed as a double suicide, as the elder cousin had been caught in an “intimate” act with the main accused. Yet, there were no traces of hair or fingerprints on the victim, and doubts thus persist about the exoneration of the accused (including the policeman) (Outlook. 1 June 2014).

In another case, a woman in the same region was gang raped by policemen for refusing to pay a bribe (Kulkarni et al 2014). Equally grim tales of rape, brutality and murder abound in other regions. In 2014, a girl was gang raped twice and then killed by the same group of men in West Bengal. The second assault took place as the victim walked back from the police station, having filed a criminal complaint by naming the attackers. Justice also eludes an Odisha primary school teacher at the time of writing, more than a year after she was killed. She had been harassed by a powerful local gang for denying sexual favours to one of their members, a sub-inspector of schools. Her dying statement led to his arrest, the suspension of a few state officials and dismissal of two policemen. But the assailant, who set her ablaze, is still absconding (Kulkarni et al 2014).

Vani S. Kulkarni

Notions of honour are central to the discourse on rape. The rape of a daughter, sister or wife is a source of dishonour to males within the family structure. When an earlier sexual assault victim of convicted rapist Shiv Kumar Yadav shared her experience with the media, her husband’s angry reaction, “Tu kitni naak katayegi? Moonh band nahi rakh sakti?” was typical. (“You have brought dishonour to the family. Why could you not keep your mouth shut?”) This deters the reporting of rape to the police, reinforced by a belief in the impunity of perpetrators, the fear of retaliation, and humiliation by the police through physical and verbal abuse (Kulkarni et al 2014).

Husbands were mostly responsible for violence in majority of cases and some women reported the involvement of their husbands’ parents. Studies show that various acts of violence continued among a majority of the women who reported violence.

Much of the marital abuse that women suffer frequently occurs in the first few years of marriage. Given the early average age at marriage in much of South Asia, this finding means that a great deal of this violence is experienced by married adolescents, who may be more powerless than older married women to defend themselves (Solotaroff and Pande 2014).

Adolescent wives (13–19 years) are most vulnerable, reporting the highest rates of marital sexual violence of any age group. Adolescent girls also account for 24% of rape cases in the country, although they represent only 9% of the total female population.

Raghav Gaiha

The rape risk to minors has surged sharply in the 10 years from 2003 to 2013; minors comprised 19.6% of all rape victims in 2003, but the corresponding figure increased to 39.4% in 2013. That is why the number of minor rape victims increased by 328%, from 3,112 in 2003 to 13,304 in 2013, significantly higher than the corresponding increase in the total number of rape victims (113%).

The consequences of domestic violence are grave and intergenerational: physical trauma, repeated physical assaults result in chronic disease (e.g. chronic pain); acute neurological (e.g. fainting) and cardiopulmonary (hypertension) symptoms; lifestyle risk behaviours (substance misuse); psychiatric disorders (depression); and children and adolescents adversely affected by witnessing domestic violence (post-traumatic stress disorder). Besides, domestic violence also results in malnutrition among women and children.

Sen (2015) has emphasised that rape and other serious crimes against women are closely intertwined with inefficient policing and judicial systems, and callousness of society. Although the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013) provides for the death penalty to repeat offenders, often, many are let off the hook or roam free. In 2014, the launch of Rape Crisis Centres in every district in India was announced. But by 2015, this was reduced to just 36 centres. To date only 18 have been built, but even these centres are not functioning to their full capacity because of lack of personnel, infrastructure and convergence among different departments.

In a nuanced view based on recent evidence, Kulkarni et al (2014) argue that dominance and control over women are set in male attributes and behaviour (“masculinity”), regarded as a shared social ideal. Violence is not necessarily a part of masculinity, but the two are often closely linked, mediated by class, caste and religion.

Interventions that address masculinity seem to be more effective than those that ignore the powerful influence of gender norms and systems of inequality.

In conclusion, while the rapidly growing menace of sexual violence is scary and abhorrent, the challenges of judiciary and police reforms, and curbing of bestial masculinity are daunting.

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  • Mouni Baba

    NOTHING, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING will happen to stop the totally disgusting gang-rape culture in India until the current governments TOTAL APATHY, and maybe even passive support to the perpetrators, are replaced by POLITICAL WILL and MORAL COURAGE, which are rare attributes among Indian politicians, Prime Minister Modi INCLUDED! Time is well past for the government of India to tackle this Cancer of Indian society and treat this issue as it is treating the acquiring of jet fighters, aircraft carriers and submarines. This issues deserves spending some serious amounts of money to do the following AND anyttelse that may be necessary to drive home the message that such treatments of Indian women will no longer be tolerated. (A) Set up fast-track courts all over the country for treating rape victims. (B) Set up fast-track appeals courts for these cases as well, making sure that NO APPEALS are allowed other than against death sentences. The inevitable appeals against death sentences should ONLY go through these appeals courts and NOT through the Supreme Court. (C) Make a MINIMUM of 20 years of hard labour, a MINIMUM of Rs 200,000 in fines, and 20 lashes every 2 months for the first one year MANDATORY for all rape cases where the victim survives. (D) MANDATORY death sentences where the victim dies, (E) Execute all sentences immediately. It is an insult that those 4 pieces of filth that raped and murdered that poor hapless young girl Jyoti Singh Pandey on that chilly December night in 2012 are still alive and well. (F) Hand out exemplary punishments including a MINIMUM of 10 years of hard labor, 20 lashes, a MINIMUM of Rs 200,000 in fines and job loss to the members of the Police who do not help a rape victim immediately.

    Indian politicians, with Prime Minister Modi as their head, are probably waiting for an India Spring in line with the Arab Spring, for them to wake up from the deep state of slumber they are in for them to ACT. What a fearsome that would be. Maybe India does need one to cleanse its political leadership of all the Old Fossils with their antiquated thinking that rule the country today?

  • Prabha Sharma

    What makes the problem of curbing violence against women more complex is that even women themselves are perpetrators of this crime. In domestic violence, mothers–in-law and sisters-in –law play a major role in abetting the husbands to resort to beating up their wives or even burning them alive. Mental and physical torture by the in-laws’ often forces a bride to commit suicide. The police force also suffers from the so called ‘masculinity’ resulting in delays in registering cases of sexual violence against women and often in even refusing to register a complaint. This calls for enrolling a large number of well trained women as police personnel. Speedy trials of such cases will also
    help in reducing crimes against women and allow them to live with dignity.

  • Neeraj Nanda

    This is correct.

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